A note from the Director

Four Works of Art and a Museum (that Changed My Life)

When I was in the fourth grade, I went with my classmates to visit the Milwaukee Art Museum.  Back then, it wasn't the fancy Calatrava-designed building they have now, but the more modest, Eero Saarinen-designed building overlooking Lake Michigan.  It was about an hour trip one-way.  That's right, an hour...on a school bus...with fourth graders.  Those teachers and parent chaperones must have been saints. 

The Milwaukee Art Museum has a nice collection of modern and post-modern art.  Up to that point, I never imagined that such art existed.  I walked by Howard Jones' sculpture, "Sonic II" and it made a sound.  It made a sound when everyone walked by.   You can control the sound by walking, using your hands individually or in groups.  Next we rounded a corner and almost ran into a janitor.  Not just any janitor but Duane Hanson's sculpture, "Janitor."  It is so real that we whispered because we thought he could hear us.  Next to the janitor was a large black box with a black curtain covering the doorway.  The docent gave us booties to put over our shoes and we went inside in small groups.  When you walk inside Stanley Landsman's "Walk-in Infinity Chamber" you feel like you're in space--an amazing thing in the early '70's.  To this day, if I close my eyes, I can still picture "Nancy," a haunting large black and white acrylic by Chuck Close.

About that same time, I first visited the Milwaukee Public Museum. They pioneered the use of life-size dioramas that replaced the rows of dusty artifacts. You could walk through an igloo, visit the a nineteenth-century Milwaukee neighborhood and buy candy at the candy store, or walk through almost any country you could think of.  There was also a life size diorama of two Plains Indians on horseback in the process of bringing down a buffalo.  We were next to a group tour and all of a sudden, a rattle snake started moving its tail just a few feet away.  I noticed that the docent sitting on the rock wall that serves as a barrier had done something as the rattler rattled its tail.  After they left, I went to look and there was a large red button hidden in the rock wall.  I pushed the button and the rattler came to life.  I always asked to go back to that museum just to push that button in the hopes of startling some unsuspecting kid.  In reality, that red button was probably the worst kept secret in Milwaukee.  Still, I felt like an "insider" at the museum.  To be truthful, I visited the Milwaukee Public Museum often in my adult life and always pushed that button.

 You never know what moment or moments will have a profound impact on your life.  But those two visits made me want to work in a museum.  To me, art, art history, anthropology and history are often intertwined and inseparable.   If you study the collections of the Mabee-Gerrer, I think you'll find that Fr. Gerrer must have felt much the same.

 Over 1000 school kids are visiting the Mabee-Gerrer Museum this spring.  Most of them are receiving free admission thanks to many donors at our Holiday Gala.  The 5th and 6th graders from the Buffalo Valley Public Schools in Talihina, Oklahoma will be among them.  Don't feel bad, I had no idea where Talihina was either until I looked at a map.  Talihina is almost exactly three hours away.  That's right, three hours...on a school bus...with 5th and 6th graders. 

I doubt that I ever properly thanked my fourth grade teachers.  Their hard work and that field trip changed my life.  I'll have to settle for thanking the teachers from Buffalo Valley, and of course, all of you, for your support of the Mabee-Gerrer.

Dane Pollei

Director & Chief Curator

 


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